Saturday, January 05, 2008

On insider trading

The Cons' latest broken promise on lobbying regulation figures to receive plenty of much-needed attention in the next little while. But let's note that the Cons' action goes beyond merely breaking promises to outright encouraging a culture of cronyism:
(T)he new registry will not require reports on written communications, such as e-mails or letters, between senior government officials and lobbyists. Instead, the registry...will keep tabs on only "oral and arranged communication."

The new regulations would not require lobbyists to report oral communications initiated by federal officials dealing with the development of policy, programs or legislation.
From what I can tell, that type of structure is effectively designed to ensure that lobbyists can in fact cash in on personal access to government officials.

After all, any lobbyist would be able to write to the government at will without any reporting obligation. But it's only those with close personal connections to the government who figure to be able to use that correspondence to ask for the chance to write policy or legislation. And once a friendly government official "initiates" a conversation, there's absolutely no obligation to even acknowledge that any communication has taken place, let alone to make public the nature of the lobbyist's requests.

Which means that any lobbyist with sufficiently close personal connections to the federal government can offer his or her clients the opportunity to carry out sensitive lobbying with no risk of disclosure - and can cash in on that access accordingly. And there will presumably be at least some temptation within the government to also seek some quid pro quo in exchange for the "initiation" which will eliminate any reporting requirement.

In contrast, anybody who the Cons don't want to hear from will face an additional reporting burden in trying to change any minds within the government. So the ultimate effect of the regulations seems to be to ensure privileged access for the Cons' friends, while making it more difficult for anybody else to be heard in Ottawa.

Not that it's much surprise that Harper's main goal is to insulate its government from the pesky views of Canadians who aren't Con cronies. But now that they've tried to make that happen in yet another way, the main question is whether the Cons will be forced back to the drawing board.

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